The conflict in Chechnya continues to take a huge toll on civilians. The October 2002 hostage crisis in Moscow, which left 129 dead, has been followed by reports of abuses by Russian and rebel forces in Chechnya, and accelerated efforts by Russian authorities to force displaced people living in tent camps in Ingushetia back to Chechnya. Russian authorities have also significantly restricted access to the region, blocking access for international monitors, including those from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The Russian government claims that the armed conflict in Chechnya is over and that the situation is normalizing. Therefore, it argues, an OSCE presence is no longer needed and displaced people face no serious obstacles to return. But as attested by the Moscow hostage-taking itself and subsequent incidents described below, the armed conflict grinds on and civilians continue to face life-threatening conditions.Concerned by these developments, Human Rights Watch conducted an eleven-day research mission to Ingushetia, from December 10-21, 2002. Through interviews with some sixty-two people, we documented a pattern of threats and intimidation by migration authorities to compel the approximately 20,000 displaced people living in the six remaining tent camps to return to Chechnya. We also gathered eyewitness accounts of conditions in Chechnya, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, looting, and arbitrary detention.
This report first documents the Russian government's attempts to forcibly return displaced people to Chechnya, and then examines new evidence of continuing humanitarian law violations by Chechen and Russian forces inside Chechnya. The international community should act now to ensure that Russia does not return displaced people to Chechnya against their will, and to reinstate the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya. More international scrutiny in the region, not less, is needed.
Two incidents in late 2002 that caused enormous loss of civilian life demonstrate vividly that the armed conflict in Chechnya has not ended. On October 23, about fifty Chechens took hundreds of civilians hostage in a Moscow theater, an act that, as already noted, resulted in the deaths of 129, mostly due to the effects of a debilitating gas that Russian special forces used in their rescue operation. On December 27, Chechen forces blew up the main government building in Grozny, killing at least seventy-two civilians and wounding 210. Chechen forces also are believed to be responsible for a continuing pattern of assassinations of village administrators and other civil servants working for the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya. At the same time, abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya-forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, looting, and arbitrary detention-have continued unabated.